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Pashtun rights activist released from Pakistani jail

PASHTUN rights activist Manzoor Pashteen was released from a Pakistani jail today following weeks of protests demanding his release.

Mr Pashteen left the prison after being granted bail, according to his lawyer.

After walking free, Mr Pashteen said that his arrest was not going to stop him from “raising my voice for Pashtun rights,” as hundreds of mostly young supporters chanted and showered him with rose petals.

The 28-year-old was arrested in Peshawar, northern Pakistan, on January 27 on charges of alleged sedition, hate speech, incitement against the state and criminal conspiracy.

He is the leader of the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM), which has campaigned for civil rights for Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic minority, since 2018.

The PTM carried out rallies in recent weeks throughout northern Pakistan, demanding Mr Pashteen’s release and has mobilised tens of thousands of people against the Pakistani army’s operations in tribal regions.

Jamila Gilani, a human rights activist and MP who resigned from the Awami National Party recently in support of the PTM campaign for civil rights and peace, said that she travelled 300km at night to give Mr Pashteen a copy of the Morning Star while he was in prison.

“But the prison administration refused to allow us to meet with Manzoor,” she said.

Human Rights Watch had also urged Pakistani authorities to release Mr Pashteen and drop the charges against him, warning that “using criminal laws to chill free expression and political opposition has no place in a democracy.”

The activist had been “arbitrarily detained for exercising his human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” according to Amnesty International.

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